Virginia Lawyer

VaLawyer_June/July 2013

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Noteworthy > VSB NEWS Lexington Student Wins Annual Law in Society Essay Contest Thomas Forster, a senior at Rockbridge County High School in Lexington, has been awarded first place in the 2013 Law in Society Contest sponsored by the Virginia State Bar and its Litigation Section. Forster will attend Yale University in the fall. Forster won for his essay "Teacher Intimidation in the 21st Century." He will receive $2,300. This year's essay theme had students explore online teacher intimidation by students. Entrants were asked to imagine that they were a legislative aide and write a law making it illegal for students to try to intimidate their teacher online. They were also required to argue in favor of their law and anticipate the arguments of those opposed to it and address them. Teacher Intimidation in the 21st Century by Thomas Forster Rockbridge High School, Lexington Part I A. It shall be unlawful for a student to intimidate, torment, or harass a teacher on the Internet, by, but not limited to: 1. Creating a fake profile, blog, or website with a teacher's personal information and posting or publishing with malicious intent; 2. Posting material on social networking sites or personal blogs with the intent to defame or slander a teacher's reputation; 3. Generating inappropriate or misleading photos that compromise a teacher's professional reputation; 4. Urging fellow students on social networking sites or personal blogs to be disruptive in class or to hinder an instructor's ability to teach; or 42 VIRGINIA LAWYER | June/July 2013 | Vol. 62 5. Initiating or carrying out any other online activity that damages a teacher's reputation, hinders a teacher's ability to instruct, or intimidates or harms a teacher in any other way. B. Any student found to be in violation of this section shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor, with consequences including, but not limited to, one or more of the following: 1. A fine not to exceed $1,000; 2. Community service not to exceed 500 hours; 3. Jail time not to exceed six months; 4. Transfer of the student to another school; or 5. Any other ramifications that the court sees fit. C. If the court finds that a parent has unreasonably contributed to or willfully assisted in the student's unlawful conduct, the court may order the parent to pay a civil fine not to exceed $1,000. Part II Passing this proposed law would allow teachers a sense of security and protection against the malicious or mischievous intentions of discontented students. Teachers should be able to instruct students without fear of online harassment or bullying, and this law provides both teachers and students the freedom and opportunity to educate and learn in a comfortable and stable environment. Such a law discourages students from acting out against teachers in an inappropriate fashion and encourages students and their families to navigate through the proper avenues to resolve an issue or misunderstanding with a teacher. Rather than engaging in ill intentioned attempts to slander a teacher's name on the Internet, causing Forster irreparable harm, students will develop important conflict resolution skills. The potential consequences of violating this law also dissuade an impetuous student from attempting to torment a teacher, as a conviction would precipitate financial and familial strain. Ideally, such ramifications serve as a strong deterrent, as the consequences greatly exceed any perverse and fleeting personal satisfaction. Cost-effective public awareness campaigns may persuade a parent or guardian to monitor his or her child's Internet activity, lest they be subjected to civil fines. Hopefully, a parent or guardian will also be prompted to educate his or her child on the proper methods to express dissatisfaction with another individual. This law fosters a more protected and harmonious classroom where both teacher and student may focus on the business of learning. The law encourages parents and members of the school community to better educate students on conflict resolution, while also spreading awareness throughout the Commonwealth of this growing and troubling issue. Part III Assuming arguendo that opponents claim the proposed law unduly restricts free speech, the First Amendment does not protect defamatory speech or fighting words. Libel and slander, which differ solely in the form in which a misleading statement is made, are unprotected forms of expression that can allow a plaintiff to prove in court that the speech was slanderous. In the same way, this law would protect the Essay Contest continued on page 55 www.vsb.org

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